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No Depression

Uncle Tupelo

Sony

Viewed by many as torchbearers for the alt-country movement, Uncle Tupelo’s ‘No Depression’ is given the re-issue treatment by way of a Legacy Edition that sees a multitude of extras including, for the first time on CD, the 10-song demo tape ‘Not Forever, Just For Now’ that was recorded by the original line-up of Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn (1989). Given that this album was first released in 1990, ‘No Depression’ has not lost any of its edge with its intriguing mix of country and indie rock that no doubt had some bearing on Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Bandwagonesque’ during the same decade. With producers Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie behind the helm and responsible for artists such as Radiohead, Pixies and Dinosaur Jr, then the crossover of styles becomes even more apparent with the ‘Graveyard Shift’ and ‘Factory Belt’ leading the way. ‘No Depression’ is a timely re-release considering the current popularity in roots music, but a reminder of a ground-breaking album that should secure a new level of interest from those unfortunate to miss out during its initial release.


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The Arcade

Seven Doors Hotel

Snaxville Recordings

The fourth instalment of the Seven Doors Hotel bandwagon titled ‘The Arcade’ is unleashed on Snaxville Recordings. The man behind the moniker is Alexander Lindbäck who turns in a heavy shift having written, produced and played the majority of the instruments, with additional support coming from Henrik Maarud (Amund Maarud) who is also responsible for mixing the songs making up this latest release. ‘The Arcade’ embraces an alt. country sound that is blowing in from the American Southwest rather than the colder climes of Norway where, in fact, this album originates. There is a definite sinking feeling of loss at the heart of ‘The Arcade’, with not much optimism in the pipeline either (‘My Back To The Future’), as songs dwell on what might have been (‘That Day’) to the downright perplexed emotions running through the wonderfully aching country lilt of ‘Sliding Bar’ and more conscious ‘Gone Again’. There is an edginess to album opener ‘Go With You’, reflected to great effect with keys and guitars that eventually give way to the song’s frustrations when the feelings are not reciprocated. Seven Doors Hotel is not all about sweetness and light, however, due to a few honest confessions of their own during ‘Hell’s Hot’ ‘”people acting stupid like they just don’t care, maybe that’s why we’re f****** it up” and when retreading the steps of ‘Sliding Bar’ that brings a more rounded and definitely compelling experience when listening to ‘The Arcade’.


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Miami Pop Festival

Jimi Hendrix Experience

Sony Legacy

Beginning in a warts and all ‘Introduction’ consisting of tuning up and occasional apologies before the main spectacle begins, Sony Legacy triumph with the release of Jimi Hendrix live at ‘Miami Pop Festival’. The reason for such enthusiasm for this live experience is due to the inclusion of the songs ‘Tax Free’ and ‘Hear My Train A Comin” which, until now, can be heard for the first time as live stage performances due to being unavailable previously in any format. In addition to these two songs, ‘Miami Pop Festival’ includes the usual candidates of ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Foxey Lady’; the latter of which is given a second airing due to being scheduled as an afternoon performance and sounding more spacious in places presumably as a result of the more relaxed timeslot. Jimi Hendrix completists will be pleased with the added extras including never before published photographs of this live event and an essay from award-winning music journalist Bob Santelli that rounds off a very fine album package indeed.


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To All The Girls…

Willie Nelson

Sony

The king of country Willie Nelson is back with a new album that finds him teaming up with many of country music’s finest female singers including the likes of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Miranda Lambert, Shelby Lynne, Roseanne Cash to name but a few. ‘To All The Girls’ is not only an exercise in how to deliver the perfect duet album but also wise and considered when making the decisions for each and every song. There is far too much detail to cover here as ‘To All The Girls’ extends to an immense eighteen tracks taking in a superb reinterpretation of previously recorded classic ‘Always On My Mind’ featuring Carrie Underwood; a real aching quality to ‘Somewhere Between’ compellingly narrated via two experienced vocals with the other half being Loretta Lynn; the comedown of ‘Back To Earth’ with a vocal stealing performance from Melonie Cannon and extending to similar compliments with ‘Will You Remember Mine’ featuring a fine vocal performance by Lily Meola. ‘To All The Girls’ is an impressive album that is the third in a line from little over a year and a worthy addition to help celebrate Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday celebrations.


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A Tiny Little Island In The Big Bad Sea

Suburban Dirts

Haven Records / Operando

Having found a home with the ever productive Boo Hewerdine and his label Haven Records via Operando, Suburban Dirts express the homeliness of their new surroundings by drumming up a second album steeped in a rich quality of folk and alt. country goodness. It would be equally wise to suggest ‘A Tiny Little Island In The Big Bad Sea’ is far from basking in a glow of warm sentiments, rather the opposite in fact, as the foundations of one or two relationships appear to have crumbled long ago with the deeply entrenched sadness of ‘You Kill Me’ being a prime example. There is faint optimism swirling around the Dylan-esque ‘Any Other Morning’ that gets swept along at some considerable pace before grinding to a halt with the honest confessions of ‘One’.  There is, however, a knowingness about ‘A Tiny Little Island…’ as Suburban Dirts is far from craving a shoulder to cry on as reflected by ‘Occasionally Drunk’ with its roots embedded in a country barroom and ‘Queen O’Pity’ that once more gives a respective nod to Bob Dylan. Suburban Dirts might be residing on a tiny island but their songs are deserved of a much bigger stage.


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Western Harmonies

Jonas Fjeld & Chatham County Line

Sony

Crossing back and forth between Norwegian and English borders, Jonas Fjeld & Chatham County Line makes a welcome return with latest album ‘Western Harmonies’. Warm vocal harmonies and a country turn with elements of bluegrass begin proceedings whilst dreaming of the impossible with ‘Boy’. The mother tongue rolls to great effect as it relays the thoughts held within of ‘Skulle jeg bli blind’ before picking its way along the dust and grime of the old ‘Railroad’ of the west rather than anything lying to the north. The (almost) hoedown feel of bluegrass inspired ‘Hallingkast Breakdown’ gives further suggestion that Jonas Fjeld and his Chatham County boys should really consider the origin of their native roots such is the authenticity of the delivery. The grizzled excellence of ‘Gitar’ and lonely trawl of ‘En gammel mann’ provides further evidence of the song writing prowess of this band that really shines in a variety of shades as ‘Western Harmonies’ is a master class within its field.


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Women

Halden Electric

Home On The Range Records / Rootsy

When it came to Halden Electric’s third album, any notion of the creativity department being bereft of ideas was simply non-existent. When most artists struggle to find the form which promised so much on first album outings, Halden Electric not only had enough material to reach fourth base, but also a finely tuned balance of songs consisting of acoustic and electric and therefore a double album was born. The end result is ‘Women’; a twenty track collection spanning a variety of emotions and best listened to during several shifts due to the sheer amount of detail between its covers. ‘Loving Coming To Life’ is the best possible introduction with its barebones beginning of mandolin and forlorn vocal that tries its best to convince the future holds much promise when in fact it’s quite the opposite. ‘Always You’ leans towards Americana as it brings a glow musically, despite holding much heartbreak at its centre with downright weepy utterings, “I don’t take roads that don’t lead to you”. Wonderful steel strings and various other musical accompaniments try their hardest to perk up the downtrodden sentiments of ‘Everything You Love’, which is proceeded by an even greater effort with an almost a cappella ‘Light Your Lantern’ adding further vindication that the decision for a double album was the right one considering the breadth of creativity. The brooding ‘I Don’t Think It’s Funny’ complete with the merest hint of vocal harmonising during its chorus carries the song to its conclusion, only having to sidestep a brief interlude straight out of The Beatles handbook circa White album before arriving at the self-confessed, “It’s gonna do me a lot of good to get away from myself”.

Side two really opens up the wounds further as there is no respite for the hapless victim(s) at the end of these tales of heartbreak as ‘No More Love’ fully indicates with its distorted bluesy guitars and thumping backbeat owing a considerable debt to the White Stripes. The sonic distortion prevails in superb fashion with scuzzy guitars dragging ‘These Wounds’ through the mire. ‘I Don’t Want To’ tones things down musically and reveals its fondness for Neil Young due to possessing an aching quality on several different levels. The tension felt during ‘How Much Attention’ is certainly exerted via scorched guitars and a distorted vocal that is close to boiling over with its persistent questioning. Red hot guitars persist throughout ‘Good To Be Alone’ before ‘Trust Your Love’ brings the curtain down on this immense album with a final realisation that the same trust is to be invested once more if the dream is to be realised. ‘Women’ is an album of two halves that is equally intense and honest when it comes to its confessionary tales revealing a severely tested heart, but thankfully one that is not willing to call time just yet.


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Sånger om oss

Lisa Nilsson

Sony

With elements of folk and jazz instrumentation, Lisa Nilsson returns to the spotlight with ‘Sånger om oss’. There is much quality here and rightly so considering Nilsson’s longstanding as a musician and remaining one of Sweden’s top artists. Beginning with brass instrumentation and then proceeded with an acoustic guitar before given the big band treatment that knows how to keep its distance, ‘Var är du min vän’ is reminiscent of the kind of song Paul McCartney was peddling during the latter stages of The Beatles circa ‘Let It Be’ but in this instance Nilsson’s vocal is more in tune with folk than anything pop. The balance is addressed during title track ‘Sånger om oss’ that receives a modern pop sheen and as a result reveals a delightfully uplifting chorus that has hit single written all over it. ‘Tillbaka’ receives similar treatment with occasional dashes of electronica but is more introspective in its outlook and never really threatens to breakout. ‘Kom hem’ continues the introspection further bringing to the fore its folk roots in brooding fashion whereas ‘Dåliga dagar’ overturns such darkened corners, despite its title alluding to such things, as Nilsson is almost on the verge of rockin’ out with one foot on the piano keys à la Jerry Lee Lewis…wishful thinking of course. As it stands, ‘Sånger om oss’ is a triumphant return.

                                                                  


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Stay True

Danny & The Champions of the World

Loose Music

With a UK tour underway, Danny & The Champions of the World have every reason to feel a sense of gratification regarding the critical appraisal currently bestowed upon them for latest effort ‘Stay True’. A measure of self-satisfaction is more than granted when listening to the warm, country-tinged ‘(Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket’ as frontman Danny George Wilson recollects fragments of memories of family relations and a jukebox crammed with 50s nostalgia. ‘Cold Cold War’ is played out accordingly with its subdued country feel and downbeat soulful vocal striving to hold together a failing relationship. Similar ground can be found with ‘Stop Thief!’ that somehow manages to wade through the tears to deliver a vocal of the highest order with shades of early Springsteen. Radiating a warm musical ambience yet teetering on the edge lyrically, ‘Stay True’ is an honest and raw document of a band clearly at ease with itself and entering the form of its life.


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Feels Like Home

Sheryl Crow

Warner Music Norway

Surprisingly, ‘Feels Like Home’ is Sheryl Crow’s first country album as there are shades of country aligned with her more rock roots dating back to first album ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’. That said, ‘Feels Like Home’ is definitely a straight country-rock record that is more at home at the commercial end of the market than the scuffed edges of the Americana scene. ‘Shotgun’ is one such example, full of swagger and immediate hooks coupled with some lovely mandolin rising above the country-rock strings. ‘Easy’ has Sheryl Crow written all the way through its centre with its catchy chorus, and this time relying a bit more on her pop influences, but it remains a song that could have graced much of her previous works. There is a lovely sweeping quality about ‘Give It To Me’, due to various orchestral strings residing in the background, which is in stark contrast to the quirky edges of ‘We Oughta Be Drinkin’, “But some nights are made for staying at home, roll a big fat one and watch Nashville alone” which is apt considering the majority of ‘Feels Like Home’ could soundtrack said TV show. But with the cynicism of ‘Crazy Ain’t Original These Days’, deeply melancholic ‘Homesick’ that really tugs at the heartstrings and proceeded with more quality ‘Homecoming Queen’ and jagged barbs of the fully aware ‘Best Of Times’, ‘Feels Like Home’ contains a few more hidden depths than its immediate polish suggests.


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The Temperance Movement

The Temperance Movement

Warner Music Norway

With the Temperance Movement’s only other release to date being the five-track EP ‘Pride’ (2012), the band’s first long player is a highly accomplished affair that draws, in part, on a 70s rock sound with elements of blues and folk-tinged roots. Despite early warnings suggesting the Black Crowes had been on heavy rotation leading up to the making of the band’s debut album (‘Only Friend’), it was reassuring to hear less ballsy rockers such as the tender ‘Pride’ and simply gorgeous ‘Chinese Lanterns’ constructed on aspects of folk and country. What separates The Temperance Movement, however, is the understated quality in their songwriting and actual delivery that keeps feet planted firmly on ground without a necessity to sound overblown during their more raucous moments as ‘Morning Riders’ and blues rock of ‘Know For Sure’. The simple fact remains, however, when the amps are turned down low The Temperance Movement shine to greater heights as clearly heard with the exquisite beauty of ‘Lovers and Fighters’.


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The Electric Lady

Janelle Monae

Warner Music Norway

Let’s get one thing straight as this is not what FLW was expecting when it came to Janelle Monae’s latest album ‘The Electric Lady’. Considering the cover art giving the impression of a Motown era Diana Ross & The Supremes, our ears were in fact treated to a glorious mix of weird and wonderful funk, pop and soul influenced songs. Early indications that this body of work was not going to be a straightforward Motown collection can be gleaned from ‘Suite IV Electric Overture’ that would grace any opening to a Bond movie, via a brief pit stop with Tarantino, with its western flavoured guitar followed by sweeping orchestral strings assuming full control. ‘Givin Em What They Love’ with its strident vocal delivery and echo beats is appropriately followed by the equally forceful ‘Q.U.E.E.N’ bringing to the fore Janelle’s desire for this latest release to reflect the strong matriarchal figures in her life and need for recognition of such women.  With various collaborations ranging from Erykah Badu to Solange lending a hand with the more direct pop/funk of ‘Electric Lady’, as well as the intriguing and often humorous interludes with DJ Crash – Crash, there is clearly much to digest due to the breadth of creativity on offer (i.e. compare ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ with ‘Look Into My Eyes’) but also lengthy running time. That said, ‘The Electric Lady’ is an audacious album that more often than not delivers in style.



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